On the morning of the first Cooper River Bridge Run, in 1978, Terry Hamlin fired the starting gun, then handed it to the co-race director and started running. He has been running most of the time since, but he no longer seeks the same finish line.

His best time for the estimated 20 to 25 Cooper River races he’s run was less than 35 minutes, which earned him 10th place. It was his finish time of 1:09, though, in 2011 that might have been his most memorable.

In 2009, Hamlin damaged his leg in a farm accident. Six compound fractures and a crushed heel required massive surgery. He immediately was forced from an active life to what he recalls as an awful existence. He couldn’t bear to think of living without running, hiking, fishing and golfing.

After much thought and prayer, Hamlin decided he wanted his life back, but to do that, his leg would require amputation.

The left leg was removed in 2010, but for two months, infections and blood clots nearly killed him. His doctor told him he would have died had his lifetime of running not left him with such a strong heart. Not even Hamlin knew then just where his heart was planning to take him.

Step by step

Hamlin wore a temporary prosthetic leg but he wanted more. Seven months later, after clamoring for a running blade, he got it.

He strapped it on and took it for a test run on the indoor track at the East Shore Athletic Club. He was afraid to try it on some isolated road for fear he might fall down and no one would be there to help him stand up again.

Over time, he became more and more comfortable with the running blade. So comfortable, in fact, he decided to enter the 2011 Bridge Run.

The morning of that race, he got up, told his wife what he was going to do, and she wasn’t happy. He had not trained but he felt there was enough “know-how” in him to figure it out.

He ran between two friends and kept apologizing for holding them back. He ran every step and crossed the finish line more than an hour and nine minutes later. Initially, there was joy just for the accomplishment, but he also felt humiliated by how long it took.

His wife provided instant chiding and perspective. “You beat half the field with one leg; what are you whining about?” she said.

A higher calling

Hamlin didn’t run the race last year and isn’t running today, either. He’ll be at the finish line, though, handing out the mobility-impaired award that is given in his name.

Since the accident that claimed his leg, he’s been driven by patriotism and duty to champion the needs of military members who have lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Friday, he sponsored a luncheon for Wounded Warriors.

Ten of them are entered in this year’s Bridge Run and Hamlin paid their entry fees.

The Bridge Run was started 35 years ago to provide activity and challenge us to climb hills uncommon to the Lowcountry.

Hamlin says people tell him all the time how sorry they are that he lost his leg. Hamlin says he’s never sorry because it gave him an opportunity to help someone else.

Thousands will cross that bridge today with a great sense of purpose and accomplishment.

Maybe the finish line is not the end-all, be-all. It might just be the beginning to a whole new way of facing life.

Reach Warren Peper at wpeper@postandcourier.com.